The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Luke 11:37-41....
While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you."It seems to me that this passage points out a problem with religion and religious people that exists to this day. We tend, as religious people, to focus on outward conformity, not inward change.
Why is this? Because outward conformity is something we can measure and judge. But no one can judge the heart except for God. Outward conformity to certain laws and rituals is something we can perform as human beings. But only God can change our hearts.
We may not be concerned about ritual hand-washing as this Pharisee was two thousand years ago. But we all have standards by which we judge our co-religionists. Is this person pro-choice or pro-life? Is this person for gay marriage or against? Does this person vote Republican or Democrat? These are just a few of the questions we are asking today, and a few of the ways that we judge others. The questions change with time and culture, but the mentality stays the same.
I am not saying that these may not be important questions at certain times and in certain situations. But these are not the most important questions. And in fact, these questions may distract us from asking what is most important.
What is most important? Jesus tells us: to give for alms those things that are within. If we simply give Jesus our hearts, our real selves, then everything else in life will work itself out eventually.
Jesus accused the Pharisees of being full of greed and wickedness. What attitudes might we have today that need to be handed over to Jesus for cleansing?
Perhaps praying this Collect for Purity from The Book of Common Prayer is a good way for us to begin to focus on inside-out change of ourselves rather than outside-in judgment of others....
Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.